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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Sacred Sins
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“Yeah, I guess I do.”

“You know you can call me if you want to talk before next week.”

She walked to the door of her office with him and watched as his stepfather rose and gave Joey a big, bluff smile. He was a businessman, successful, easygoing, and well mannered. He was the antithesis of Joey's father. “All done, huh?” He glanced at Tess, and there was no smile, only tension in his expression. “How'd we do today, Dr. Court?”

“Just fine, Mr. Monroe.”

“That's good, that's good. Why don't we pick up some Chinese, Joey, surprise your mom.”

“Okay.” He bundled into his school jacket, the school he no longer attended. Leaving it unsnapped, he turned back and looked at a point beyond Tess's right shoulder. “Bye, Dr. Court.”

“Good-bye, Joey, I'll see you next week.”

They were feeding him, she thought as she shut her office door. And he was starving. They were clothing him, but he was still cold. She had the key, but she had yet to be able to turn it so that it opened the lock.

With a sigh, she walked back to her desk. “Dr. Court?” Tess answered her intercom as she slipped the Joey Higgins file into the briefcase beside her desk.

“Yes, Kate.”

“You had three calls while you were in session. One from the
Post
, one from the
Sun
, and one from WTTG.”

“Three reporters?” Tess slipped her earring off to gently rub her lobe.

“All three wanted confirmation of your assignment to the Priest homicides.”

“Damn.” She dropped the earring on her blotter. “Not available for comment, Kate.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Slowly, she fastened the earring again. She'd been promised anonymity. That had been part of her deal with the mayor's office. No media, no hype, no comment. The mayor had given her his personal guarantee that she would be able to work without pressure from the press. No use blaming the mayor, Tess reminded herself as she rose to pace to the window. It had leaked, and she would have to deal with it.

She didn't care for notoriety. That was her problem. She liked her life simple and private. That, too, was her problem. Common sense had told her the whole business would come out before it was over, but she'd still taken the job. If she'd been advising one of her patients, she would have told him to face the reality and deal with it one step at a time.

Outside, rush hour traffic was starting to heat up. A few horns blasted, but the sound was muffled by the window and distance. Joey Higgins was out there, riding for Chinese takeout with the stepfather he refused to allow himself to trust or love. Bars were ready to serve the let's-have-a-quick-one-before-dinner crowd. Day care centers were emptying, and throngs of working mothers, single parents, and frazzled daddies were packing up preschoolers and threading their Volvos and BMW's through packs of other Volvos and BMW's with one thought in mind: to get home, to be safe and warm
behind the doors and windows and walls of the familiar. It was unlikely that any one of them gave any real thought to someone else who was out there. Someone with a small, deadly bomb ticking away inside his head.

For a moment she wished she could join them in that easy nightly routine, thinking only about a warm supper or the dentist bill. But the Priest file was already in her briefcase.

Tess went back and picked up her briefcase. The first step was to go home and make sure all her calls were screened by her answering service.

“W
HO
leaked it?” Ben demanded, and blew out a stream of smoke.

“We're still working on it.” Harris stood behind his desk, studying the officers assigned to the task force. Ed slouched in a chair, passing a bag of sunflower seeds from hand to hand. Bigsby, with his large red face and burly hands, tapped his foot. Lowenstein stood beside Ben with her hands in her pockets. Roderick sat straight in his chair with his hands folded in his lap. Ben looked as though he would bare his teeth and snarl at the first wrong word.

“What we have to do now is work with the situation. The press knows Dr. Court is involved. Instead of blocking them, we use them.”

“We've been getting hammered in the press for weeks, Captain,” Lowenstein put in. “Things were just starting to ease off.”

“I read the papers, Detective.” He said it mildly. Bigsby shifted, Roderick cleared his throat, and Lowenstein shut her mouth tight.

“We'll set up a press conference for tomorrow morning. The mayor's office is getting in touch with Dr. Court. Paris, Jackson—as heads of the team, I want you
there. You know what information we've cleared for the press.”

“We don't have anything new for them, Captain,” Ed pointed out.

“Make it sound new. Dr. Court should be enough to satisfy them. Set up the meeting with this Monsignor Logan,” he added, shifting his gaze back to Ben. “And keep this one under wraps.”

“More shrinks.” Ben ground his cigarette out. “The first one hasn't told us anything we didn't know.”

“She told us he's on a mission,” Lowenstein said quietly. “That even though things have been quiet for a while, he isn't likely to be finished with it.”

“She's told us he's killing young, blond women,” Ben snapped back. “We'd already figured that out.”

“Give it a break, Ben,” Ed murmured, knowing the temper would be deflected on to him.

“You give it a break.” The hands in Ben's pockets balled into fists. “That sonofabitch is just waiting to strangle the next woman who's in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we sit around talking to psychiatrists and priests. I don't give a damn about his soul or his psyche.”

“Maybe we should.” Roderick looked to the captain first, then to Ben. “Look, I know how you feel, how I guess we all feel. We just want him. But we've all read Dr. Court's profile. We aren't dealing with somebody who's just out for blood, for kicks. If we're going to do our job, I think we'd better understand who he is.”

“You get a good look at the morgue photos, Lou? We know who they are. Who they were.”

“All right, Paris. You want to let off any more steam, you go down to the gym.” Harris waited a moment, drawing the room together with his sense of authority alone. He'd been a good street cop. He was a better desk cop. Knowing it only depressed him occasionally.

“Press conference is being set up for eight A.M., mayor's office. I want a report on the meeting with Monsignor Logan on my desk tomorrow. Bigsby, you keep working on where those damn scarfs came from. Lowenstein, Roderick, go back and work on the family and friends of the victims. Now get out of here, go get something to eat.”

Ed waited until they'd signed out, covered the corridors, and were crossing the parking lot.

“It's not doing you any good to take out what happened to your brother on Dr. Court.”

“Josh has nothing to do with this.” But the pain was still there. He couldn't say his brother's name without it hurting his throat.

“That's right. And Dr. Court's just doing a job, like the rest of us.”

“That's fine. I don't happen to think that her job has any connection with ours.”

“Criminal psychiatry has become a viable working tool in the—”

“Ed, for Christ's sake, you've got to stop reading those magazines.”

“Stop reading, stop learning. Want to go get drunk?”

“This from a man carrying sunflower seeds.” There was still tension along the back of his neck. He'd lost one brother, but Ed had come along and nearly filled the void. “Not tonight. Anyway, it embarrasses me when you have them pour all that fruit juice in with the vodka.”

“A man's got to think of his health.”

“He's also got to think of his reputation.” Ben opened his car door, then stood jingling his keys.

It was a cool night, cool enough so that you could just see your breath. If it rained before morning, as the starless skies indicated, it would come down in sleet. In their tidy, high-ceilinged row houses, Georgetown's
affluent would be setting logs in the fireplace, sipping Irish coffees, and enjoying the flames. The street people were in for a long unpleasant night.

“She bothers me,” Ben said abruptly.

“A woman looks like that, she's bound to bother a man.”

“Not that simple.” Ben slid into his car and wished he could put his finger on it. “I'll pick you up tomorrow. Seven-thirty.”

“Ben.” Ed leaned over, holding the door open. “Tell her I said hi.”

Ben shut the door the rest of the way then gunned the engine. Partners got to know each other too well.

T
ESS
hung up the phone, and with her elbows on the desk, pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. Joe Higgins, Sr., needed therapy as much as his son, but he was too involved with destroying his life to see it. The phone call had resolved nothing. But then, conversations with alcoholics on a binge rarely did. He'd just wept at the mention of his son and slurred a promise to phone tomorrow.

He wouldn't, Tess thought. Odds were he wouldn't even remember the conversation in the morning. Her treatment of Joey hinged on the father, and the father was glued to the bottle—the same bottle that had destroyed his marriage, lost him countless jobs, and left him alone and miserable.

If she could get him to an AA meeting, get him to take the first step… Tess let out a long breath as she dropped her hands. Hadn't Joey's mother explained how many times she'd tried, how many years she'd devoted to prying Joseph Higgins, Sr., away from the bottle?

Tess understood the woman's bitterness, respected her determination to resume her own life and bury the
past. But Joey couldn't. All through his childhood his mother had protected him, shielded him from his father's illness. She'd made excuses for the late nights and the lost jobs, believing the truth should be hidden from the boy.

As a child Joey had seen too much, heard more, then had taken his mother's explanations and excuses and built a wall of lies around his father. Lies he was determined to believe. If his father drank, then drinking was okay. Okay enough that at fourteen Joey was already being treated for alcohol addiction. If his father lost his job, it was because his boss was jealous. Meanwhile Joey's grades in school slid down and down as his respect for authority and himself diminished.

When Joey's mother had no longer been able to tolerate the drinking and the break had come, the lies, broken promises, and years of resentment had poured out. She'd heaped the father's faults on the son in a desperate attempt to make him see the mistakes and not to blame her. Joey hadn't, of course, nor had he blamed his father. There was only one person Joey could blame, and that was himself.

His family had broken apart, he'd been taken out of the home he'd grown up in, and his mother had gone to work. He'd floundered. When Mrs. Higgins had married again, it was Joey's stepfather who had pressed for counseling. By the time Tess had begun to see Joey, he'd had thirteen-and-a-half years of guilt, bitterness, and pain to wade through. In two months she'd barely made a dent in the armor he wore—in their private sessions or the family counseling twice a month with his mother and stepfather.

The rage swept through her so quickly, she had to sit for several minutes and fight it off. It wasn't her function to rage, but to listen, to question, and to offer options. Compassion—she was allowed to feel compassion, but
not anger. So she sat with the anger backing up in her, fighting against the control she'd been born with then honed to a professional tool. She wanted to kick something, hit something, strike out somehow at this hateful sense of hopelessness.

Instead she picked up Joey's file and began to make further notes on their afternoon session.

Sleet had begun to fall. She picked up her glasses, but didn't look out of the window, didn't see the man across the street standing on the curb and watching the light in her apartment. If she had looked, had seen, she would have thought nothing of it.

Just as when the knock came she thought of nothing but the annoyance of being interrupted. Her phone had rung incessantly, but she'd been able to ignore that and leave it to her answering service. If one of the calls had been a patient, the beeper beside her would have sounded. The calls, Tess had guessed, had all been connected with the article in the evening's paper, linking her to the homicide investigation.

BOOK: Sacred Sins
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ads

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